Do you have the foundations you need to attain your goals for 2021?
As we head into the new year, many of us are creating action plans and timetables for achieving the audacious goals we’ve set for ourselves. But while it’s easy to get excited about these goals, we often don’t pay enough attention to the underlying skills we’ll need to achieve them.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll talk about what some of those core competencies are — and how to decide where to focus your attention.
We’ll start with the single most important skill you can possess — the ability to adopt and maintain a growth mindset.
Having a growth mindset means that you believe in your own ability to learn new skills. You’re more likely to tackle new challenges, because you perceive difficulty as a sign that you’re learning and growing — and you find that exciting.
Those with a fixed mindset shy away from challenges, because they believe their capabilities are finite. When they find something difficult, they tend to regard the situation as evidence of their own lack of skill or intelligence, rather than as an opportunity to improve.
Naturally, those who regard new challenges as learning opportunities are far more likely to succeed at developing new skills and capabilities. That’s why the best thing you can do for yourself, as you head into the new year, is to cultivate a growth mindset.
The Power of “Yet”
Psychologist Carol Dweck has studied motivation and growth mindset for years. Her research demonstrates the distinct ways that fixed-mindset people and growth-mindset people respond when faced with difficulty.
In studies of school children faced with problems that were just a touch too difficult for their current level, Dweck found that students with a growth mindset were excited and motivated to stretch their skills and learn something new.
In contrast, students with a fixed mindset gave up faster, ran away from difficulty, and reported that, in the future, they would be more likely to cheat. One study also found that students with a fixed mindset reported planning to seek out someone who had performed worse than them, so they would look and feel better by comparison.
If you’ve ever worked with people who took shortcuts, resisted taking on new challenges, gave up easily, or were unnecessarily competitive with their teammates, then you know firsthand how disruptive one person with a fixed mindset can be to the team environment.
Fortunately, adopting a growth mindset turns all that dysfunction into motivation and mastery.
People with growth mindsets are more persistent, more open to change, and more active in seeking to improve their skills. In fact, those with a growth mindset are on what Dweck calls “a learning curve with a path to the future.” By framing difficulty, errors, and failure as a sign that they have not yet mastered a new skill, people with a growth mindset are forecasting a future when they will have achieved their goals.
This is a powerful way of thinking about your own learning and growth.
So how do you adopt or boost your own growth mindset?
Developing a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is invaluable for your future development and success. So before you dive into New Year’s resolutions and personal development plans, work on fostering your own growth mindset.
Here are three ways to go about it:
1. Acknowledge the quality of your process.
Take time each day to acknowledge the work you’re putting in: the efforts you’ve made, the focus you’ve maintained, the strategies you’ve tried and the improvements you’ve made.
Better yet, actually write down these acknowledgments. Try to list 5-6 every day, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it becomes a habit to focus your attention on the positive steps you’re taking for growth, rather than fixating on the outcomes.
2. Tell yourself “not yet.”
Stop beating yourself up for facing setbacks or making errors. Whenever you feel yourself getting discouraged by slow progress, remind yourself that you’re not yet where you want to be. Telling yourself “not yet” helps conjure a future in which you’ve attained your goals.
3. Visualize what’s happening in your brain.
When you work outside your comfort zone, your brain begins creating new neurons, strengthening them over time, and building new neural connections to other parts of your brain.
Errors and setbacks are essential ingredients in this process. So the next time you feel frustrated by the pace of your skill acquisition, remind yourself that your brain is physically changing, and that takes time.
These techniques seem simple — but they work. For instance, a class of low-performing students were taught that performing difficult tasks would build and strengthen new neurons. These students showed a sharp rebound in their grades — simply because their new knowledge helped them contextualize their efforts and adopt a growth mindset.
Hard Work that Doesn’t Feel (That) Hard
One of the great things about a growth mindset is that it can make difficult things feel easier.
That’s because you’re training yourself to interpret difficult situations positively — as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a threatening problem.
Likewise, you’re also teaching yourself to appreciate how much effort these situations require from you. (After all, effort is a sign of new neurons and new growth!)
The outcome is not just that you learn and grow more…
…not just that you’re more likely to stick with hard tasks until you achieve success…
..but also that you’ll feel better while you’re doing those hard things.
And if that’s not a recipe for success in 2021, I don’t know what is.
Just like a seed, you have everything you need to grow and succeed.